Romney should demystify presidency

September 20, 2012


— Washington — In every year divisible by four, the dominant superstition of American politics — faith in the magic of presidential words and deeds — reaches an apogee that feeds national narcissism: Everything that happens anywhere is about us, is a response to something America did or did not do, and can be controlled by a president doing — even just saying — something.

This self-absorption was evident as Mitt Romney and the Obama administration sparred about violence directed at U.S. facilities in the Middle East and elsewhere. Romney called this the fruit of administration weakness; the administration blamed it on a video. It would require exquisitely precise intellectual calipers to gauge which idea is silliest.

In Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, the crumbling of old regimes and hierarchies has ignited complex sectarian and tribal power struggles, in which some participants find anti-Americanism useful. None of the people involved — some cunning, some deranged — take their cues from utterances by America’s president. So it was passing strange for Rich Williamson, former assistant secretary of state and current Romney adviser, to say, regarding the Egypt and Libya attacks, “There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation.”  

Childlike credulity about presidents’ abilities to subdue turbulent portions of the world by projecting “strength,” or to “manage” the domestic economy, encourages political infantilism. This manifests itself in people seeking in public figures attributes pertinent only to private life.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents to say which presidential candidate “would you prefer to have take care of you if you were sick” and which “would you rather invite to dinner at your home.” What is depressing about these questions is not that they miss the point of presidential elections nowadays but that they seem to touch the electorate’s erogenous zones.

“Tell me your troubles,” urged President Franklin Roosevelt in a broadcast fireside chat. But the idea of the president as Consoler in Chief and master of the bedside manner was unique to FDR until the 1990s. Then a nation with few pains had a president who promised to feel them.

Imagine, if you can, wanting Dwight Eisenhower at your bedside. Or imagine him, who had seen serious pain, pretending to feel others’. Did anyone in 1952 ask voters whether they would prefer to have Eisenhower or Adlai Stevenson come to dinner? The nation liked Ike but hired him not for the pleasure of his company but to have him see that the laws were faithfully executed and to preserve the peace, which he did.

An attractive aspect of Romney as a candidate is how endearingly unsuited he is to politics in an era when “friend” has become a verb. Would that he could just say this:

“I am not running to be your friend, because I hope you pick your friends from among people you actually know and for reasons unrelated to politics. And I will not insult your intelligence by claiming to feel your pain, which really is yours. Neither will I tell you that as president I would pacify distant mobs. I am running just to make government somewhat less destructive, to partially ameliorate the country’s largest afflictions, and to make the world a bit less dangerous.

“My candidacy comes down to an eight-word question, and it is not ‘Will you call me about your tummy ache?’ Rather, it is: ‘Is this really the best we can do?’ It is difficult to prevent Americans from briskly creating wealth, but bad choices by both parties have done so. My opponent is making many promises, although a simple apology would suffice. My promise is that although I will not really create millions of jobs, I will, if Congress cooperates, remove some of the obstacles to your doing so.

“If you want a president who is the center of a government-centered society, pick the other fellow. If you endorse a dependency agenda — more and more people dependent in more and more ways on a government fewer and fewer are paying for — vote for the other party. If you do not share my opponent’s horror about being mostly on your own in the pursuit of happiness that you define on your own, give me a try. If it doesn’t work out, you can fire me in four years.”

Someday, someone is going to seek the presidency by demystifying it. Many voters will be astonished by, and even be grateful for, the novelty of being addressed as adults.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.    


ThePilgrim 5 years, 7 months ago

‘Is this really the best we can do?’ I ask this every time I see Romney. We have Obama, who is one of the worst presidents in recent history, with a track record that should be easy to use against him (cash for clunkers, GM bailout, stimulus, Obamacare) and the best that we can get is Romney to run (incompetently) against him?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

You will have many other choices, but they won't be Democrats or Republicans. Vote your conscience. It's highly unlikely your one vote will determine the outcome of the election. Unless voting for the winner is that important to you, voting your conscience will make you feel better in the long run, in my opinion.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

To distill the words Will wants to put into Romney's mouth down to its essence, "I'm running to be the president of people like me. If you're not a millionaire or a billionaire, I will not be your president."

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

That's essentially what Romney himself said in that video, isn't it?

"Not my job to worry about" 47% of the American public.

deec 5 years, 7 months ago

In the third quarter of 2008, 44.4 percent of Americans received some sort of government assistance. In 2012, that figure rises to 49 percent.

26.4 percent receive Medicaid now compared to 23.8 percent under Bush.

16.2 percent receive Social Security. Under Bush, 14.9 percent of the population received Social Security. This reflects our aging population.

55 million people receive Social Security or Disability payments.

Info from Factcheck.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Considering we are running huge deficits that our children and grandchildren will have to pay back, I'd say 100% of us are receiving benefits from the government. Of course, that just bolsters my argument that 100% of us should be paying taxes.

deec 5 years, 7 months ago

100% do, except those who are shoplifting all their food, eating out of dumpsters and soup kitchens, or live in an enlightened state like Nebraska where food is exempt from sales tax. Anyone who has a wage job pays payroll taxes. Anyone who buys any consumer good pays taxes.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

I agree. With very few exceptions, we all pay taxes and we all receive benefits. The only question then is how much should we pay and how much should we receive? Which then loops back to my initial premise that since we can't define what is "fair", leave that idea out. We should all pay the same amount.

beatrice 5 years, 7 months ago

That also bolsters my argument that we should pay for the wars we elect to fight and shouldn't cut taxes that largely benefit the wealthiest among us when we are already running up huge deficits. Trickle down economics have proven not to work.

As far as 100% paying federal income taxes, that isn't going to happen, ever. We will never have 0% unemployment, for starters, and we can't force the retired with no income to pay income taxes. Secondly, you can only get so much out of the working poor. However, we are closer to that 100% paying taxes, since everyone likely purchases products at some point, and nobody is avoiding those taxes.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

I agree with many of your points. I agree we should not be fighting in unpaid for wars. Of course, I don't think anything should be unpaid for. I'm opposed to deficit spending. And I agree we should not be lowering taxes on the wealthy. I think their taxes should go up. I just happen to believe that everyone's taxes should go up. They should go up until we reach a balance with our spending. Then, if we choose to expand the social safety net or fight a thousand wars around the globe, we pay for it right then, right now. I strongly suspect that if we did that, we would choose to fight zero wars of choice.

The bottom line is this, we've spent years and years trying to get from point A to point B using the shortest line possible. Yet over and over again, we hit some invisible wall. Then we try again. It's not that I'm opposed to getting from A to B, it's that I'm tired of running full speed into a wall. Let's simply walk around the wall.

beatrice 5 years, 7 months ago

We are on the same page. Glad to see it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

The budget deficit is pure abstraction, and it still represents a relatively small percentage of the GDP, especially if spread over several years.

The real deficit that our children and grandchildren will be left with is a polluted planet and a changed climate that would not support the current population, much less a population considerably larger than currently live here now. And that's no abstraction.

I vote we put a lot more energy addressing the real problems, not the abstraction distraction.

And if you want everyone to pay income taxes (which, of course, will never happen) the first place to start is raising the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour. But that will never happen, because as much as the wealthy like to complain about that 47%, their real complaint is having to share their wealth in any way, for any reason, with anyone.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

"The budget deficit is a pure abstraction ... " That would be true if it stopped growing today and we never added to it in the future. Unfortunately, that's not the reality we're living with. The reality we have is that the deficit is growing now and will continue to grow for years to come. It will become an ever increasing percentage of the GDP and/or it will have to be spread out over more and more years.

If you're saying we're not at the precipice now, staring into a dark abyss, then I agree with you. But if you're saying neither the precipice nor the abyss exist, then I disagree with you.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

The current national debt is over 100% of GDP, which is the highest it's been since WWII.

And, deficits aren't abstractions - they're real measures that show we're spending more than we're taking in.

It's unsustainable over the long term, unless the government just prints money, which then causes inflation and the devaluation of the dollar.

deec 5 years, 7 months ago

We could start by retiring the myth that lower taxes on the wealthy stimulate growth.

"A study from the Congressional Research Service -- the non-partisan research office for Congress -- shows that "there is little evidence over the past 65 years that tax cuts for the highest earners are associated with savings, investment or productivity growth."

The share of total income going to the top 0.1 percent hovered around 4 percent during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, then rose to 12 percent by the mid-2000s. During this period, the average tax rate paid by the 0.1 percent fell from more than 40 percent to below 25 percent.

The study said that "as top tax rates are reduced, the share of income accruing to the top of the income distribution increases" and that "these relationships are statistically significant.""


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

The debt is indeed an abstraction-- 100% so.

That doesn't mean that we don't base our lives on that abstraction, but it's abstraction nonetheless.

Which means that we can choose how we react to it-- we don't have to run off the cliff like lemmings because of the zeros and ones stored on the computers at the Fed or the Treasury Dept, etc.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

I guess if you mean that money itself is an abstraction, then everything having to do with money is abstract.

But, failing that, there's nothing abstract about spending more money than you have.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

But the mechanisms that determine how much money any single person has is extremely abstract, as is the amount of money the government, or the private sector, or any other institution has.

Otherwise, how can it be explained that Bill Gates has a net worth at least equal to, or possibly much greater than, the net worth of the entire city of Lawrence? Can that in any way be considered an accurate representation of the real world?

Is the average CEO really 500 times more productive than the workers in his/her hire?

Top sports stars regularly make $10 million or more in a year, while the popcorn vendors, ushers, security guards, parking attendants, janitors, video cameramen, etc., make a small fraction of that amount, even though without all of these people that sports star would be lucky to be paid as well as the Negro League barnstormers of 75 years ago.

Bottom line is that what we're told is the bottom line is is a lie, told most frequently by those who benefit the most from telling that lie.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

I disagree - there's nothing abstract about how people make money.

Some do it by working, others by investing, others by starting businesses, etc. all of which are concrete activities.

If Bill Gates' net worth is equal to the net worth of Lawrence, that is the reality of that situation.

The rest of your post I agree with, and have said myself many times - the way in which money is distributed in our society is odd and out of whack with any reasonable ideas about that.

And, again, there's nothing abstract about spending more money than you have - it's a concrete activity.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

This is the dictionary definition of "abstract."

"existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence."

For me, that pretty well sums up the concept of money, whose sole purpose is to decouple the goods and services we barter everyday from the transactional process, and replace them with a monetary value that may or may not represent the real investment of time and labor it took to produce that good or service.

And that's why Bill Gates has a theoretical (mythical?) net worth equal to or greater than the entire city of Lawrence. And that's just the tip of the abstraction ice berg.

That doesn't mean that it's not an essential abstraction, but it's an abstraction nonetheless, and a badly distorted one, at that.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

From my perspective, you're nothing but an abstraction. From your perspective, I'm nothing but an abstraction. Yet we're both real, aren't we?

That huge deficit may be an abstraction to me, because I'll be dead when it comes due. But to future generations, it will become very real. It's just not the legacy I want to pass on to them.

BTW - Assuming your economic theories are correct, and that we could simply grow our way out of this, do you see any reason to believe that such a large expansion is coming anytime soon? By a 75% reduction in government spending as happened after WW II? I just don't see that happening except as wishful thinking.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Abstraction, as in we all will have died of old age by the time it comes around to paying the tab. My children and their children and their children thank us in advance.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Your susceptibility to disinformation doesn't make you any less ignorant or gullible.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

You clearly prefer ideology over truth, so what you really want is a president who mouths your favored ideology, not the truth.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Oh, come on, you don't come here for discussion. You come here to assert your ideology.

But fine, I won't address you directly. But when you post dis- and misinformation, as is your tendency, I'll post corrections as I see fit, even if not directly to you or your posts.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 7 months ago

Accusational trolling? That sounds like name-calling to me, and while it struggles to find any meaning at all, it's clearly a form of trolling.

"You can't help yourself can you."

If you really didn't want a response from me, why did you call me a troll? That's the height of hypocrisy.

Whatever. Ta ta.

Orwell 5 years, 7 months ago

Oooo! Scary, smeary subjective chapter titles from an extreme right-wing source. OK, I'm convinced! Where do I sign up?

Paul R Getto 5 years, 7 months ago

Back off. George is actually a conservative and pretty consistent in his views. Would that more of the R's were of that ilk.

Orwell 5 years, 7 months ago

I have no intention of "backing off" on the Washington Examiner's extreme, biased excuse for journalism. Any argument that relies on a superficial summary of a right wing hit job deserves to be called out.

Bob_Keeshan 5 years, 7 months ago

This week's George Will message -- Reagan sucks.

tolawdjk 5 years, 7 months ago

"I am not running to be your friend, because I hope you pick your friends from among people you actually know and for reasons unrelated to politics. And I will not insult your intelligence by claiming to feel your pain, which really is yours. Neither will I tell you that as president I would pacify distant mobs. I am running just to make government somewhat less destructive, to partially ameliorate the country’s largest afflictions, and to make the world a bit less dangerous. "

Strangely, I agreed with Will on this, right up until this paragraph. I don't want a President to make "the world a bit less dangerous." I want a President to "make America safer than when I take office." It is not in the President's job description to make the world better. He is there to keep American's safe. If by keeping American's safe, it has teh added benefit of taking some danger out of the world, great.

However, we have spent too much of our treasure in making the world less dangerous when we could have spent less and still kept American's safe. The world is not our concern. Let Greeks worry about Greece, let Bolivians worry about Bolivia, and yes, to some extent, let Israelies woory about Israel.

However, and Will touches on this, the Presidency isn't the problem here. Congress is the problem. Why anyone would want to be in that position is beyond me. All that the office serves is to be the scapegoat for the world's and nation's problems. Should anyone in that office manage to do some good, it quickly degenerates into Monday morning quarterbacking on how while the end result may have been successful, the way it was accomplished was completely wrong.

beatrice 5 years, 7 months ago

Can anyone show me the article in which Will railed against President Bush being considered more likable -- the guy you would want to have a beer with -- over Senator Kerry? Anyone?

Sorry George, but likability is a real issue in politics. Always has been. So, too, is it an issue when a candidate is caught saying he doesn't care about 47% of the population.

One good thing about Romney's 47% comments being disclosed when it was -- it almost made people forget his comments on the situation in Libya.

beatrice 5 years, 7 months ago

Can't google what doesn't exist. Then again, you are a Romney supporter, which indicates why you believe in the impossible.

Orwell 5 years, 7 months ago

Romney could begin this recommended demystification by telling us which tax exemptions he'd take away, so we can see who would benefit and who would get an added tax burden. So far, he won't trust the voters with that information. Why not?

P Allen Macfarlane 5 years, 7 months ago

It's even simpler than George describes. Whom do you trust: with your money, with your future, and with your right to live your life as you see fit? Romney wants to give your money to the rich, wants to give big business breaks so they move overseas and leave you with low-paying jobs, wants to tell you how to live your life according to conservative Christian values.

bad_dog 5 years, 7 months ago

"And I will not insult your intelligence by claiming to feel your pain, which really is yours."

I guess I'm not too surprised by this apparent disdain of empathy as expressed by a conservative; perhaps suggesting the inability to ever feel empathy.

Nice try at taking a shot at Pres. Clinton, though.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 7 months ago

Sounds like George Will is already planning an exit strategy so he can save face when his candidate and their party's ship turns into the titanic.

The Obama haters have managed to stir up a lot of hatred in the heartland. That has been their strategy. They have about as much sense as a lynch mob.

This is another reason why it is so very clear that the Republican Party is poison for this country and another reason to understand why they will never tell us what they plan to do if elected. They are betting on their hate strategy which is probably not going to get it done on election day.

Kate Rogge 5 years, 7 months ago

I think candidate Romney is so frequently clueless about how to speak, behave, or react in social situations because he is borderline autistic and simply cannot read signals and cannot respond appropriately. An intelligent man, but missing some basic social equipment.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 7 months ago

Apparently, that issue is being answered by the conclusion that Romney's accountants amended his return to match his later statements.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago


So he paid more in taxes than he had to, which by his own statements, should disqualify him for the presidency.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

We broadcast from just outside a Freeport, Illinois, factory owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Workers at Sensata Technologies have set up an encampment called "Bainport" across the street from the facility to protest the company’s plan to close the plant and move it to China, taking 170 jobs with it. The workers have been trying to get Romney to save their jobs.

We’re joined by two Sensata workers — Mark Schreck and Tom Gaulrapp — and Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, who has supported the encampment and fended off calls for it to be shut down.


kernal 5 years, 7 months ago

So Romney finally released copies of his 2011 tax returns. Big deal. He can still amend and refile those returns next year to take those deductions he purposely left out this year. That will significantly reduce his tax debt and give him a nice refund. Don't think for minute he won't. He didn't get wealthy by his ethics.

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